The State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released their latest school district ‘report cards’ last week as part of the state educational accountability system, showing ratings for every publicly funded school and district in the state.
It was interesting to see how Burnett County schools fared against the state and its neighboring districts in the final tally.
The DPI cards include data on multiple indicators for multiple years across four so-called ‘Priority Areas’ of Achievement, Growth, Target Group Outcomes and Graduation (being on-track). A school or district's overall accountability score places the school/district into one of five overall accountability ratings, ranging from ‘Fails to
Meet Expectations’ (0 stars) up to ‘Significantly Exceeds Expectations’ (5 stars), with all Burnett County Schools easily meeting or exceeding expectations.
The DPI has had the report card system for several years, and even expanded it in recent years, but they admittedly had a difficult time with the latest report for the last year, due to being without basically five months of educational time because of the pandemic and lockdowns last year, leaving many districts with little or no educational access to students, even with ‘distance learning.’
With that in mind, the assessments may be difficult to compare, year-to-year, as several local administrators noted.
In general, local districts fared very well, compared both to the state and to the region.
Comments from each district superintendent on the report card ratings are included in the scores, which are tallied alphabetically. Neighboring county school district report cards are also included for comparisons.
Grantsburg Schools scored a 65.1 overall score, giving them 3 stars and a ‘meets expectations’ rating. District superintendent Josh Watt noted that the district is separate from the iForward Report Card, which did receive a 48.7 DPI rating, but is not technically part of the Grantsburg report, which Watt also noted.
“Charter virtual schools are not included in district report cards issued by the DPI. As a reminder, iForward is a statewide charter school serving students from around the state,” Watt noted. “The principals will present our report cards in more detail at an upcoming board meeting like we did prior to the COVID cancellation of report cards in 19-20.”
However, Watt did send out a letter to district families, citing the DPI Report Card results and explaining in a nutshell what the ratings mean.
“As a district, we are always seeking to get better at all we do. One way we can measure our progress is through the annual report cards issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction … These report cards help us leverage performance data to celebrate successes and improve our efforts to prepare students for the future.
“The most recently issued report cards reflect our performance during the 2020-21 school year.
At the foundation of the report cards are four priority areas:
- Achievement: Proficiency in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics on the annual state assessments.
- Growth: Year-to-year progress in ELA and math achievement.
- Target Group Outcomes: Outcomes for students with the lowest test scores: the Target Group.
- On-Track to Graduation: Reliable predictors of how successfully students are progressing toward completing their K-12 education.”
Watt also outlined the scoring system in his letter while dovetailing into the Grantsburg ratings: “The priority area scores are aggregated into an overall accountability score, from 0 to 100. It’s important to note that the accountability score is not a ‘percent correct’ measurement. Based on its score, a school or district receives one of five rating categories, from Fails to Meet Expectations to Significantly Exceeds Expectations,” Watt wrote. “Overall, the Grantsburg School District received a score of 65.1, placing us in the category of ‘Meets Expectations.’ While we continue to have a very good school district here in Grantsburg, we are focused on continuous improvement and getting better every day. The report card will be combined with other data we collect throughout the school year to determine what we are doing well and where we can make improvements.”
The Siren School District DPI score was the highest in the county, and among the highest in the region at an overall 72.1, earning 4 stars and a ‘Exceeds Expectations’ rating.
District administrator Dr. Kevin Shetler was notably happy with the rating, while also pointing out that the district’s ‘hybrid learning model’ was part of their 2020-2021 school year,
“We couldn't be more pleased with our results this year,” Shelter exclaimed. “Our administration and staff have been working hard at achieving the current status of ‘exceeding expectations.’ The students have also worked very hard to grow academically in the past couple of years.”
Shetler also noted ways they’ve tried to designate staff into specific areas of learning and concerns.
“In addition, the way our administrative team is set up allows for our two building principals to focus on curriculum and our special education director to help provide the necessary testing resources for students who may qualify,” Shetler said. “Additionally, our assistant MS/HS principal is often out of the building focusing on truancy in an effort to reduce absenteeism in our district, which is a component of the report card.”
While full analysis and review is expected for each district at their next board meetings, Shetler cited ways they have tried to recover from a weird year and focus on growth.
“In the final analysis, with the right people in the right places, doing the right things we can continue to achieve at our highest potential. Our Board of Education has been very supportive in terms of curriculum selection, which has specifically helped in the elementary math scores improvement,” Shetler added. “Without question, our teachers have committed to focusing on student achievement with fidelity and have been the driving force in this effort to improve academic growth, at all levels. Finally, the students have bought into the achievement process through their relationships with support staff, certified teachers and administration. We are so very proud of our students at Siren.”
The Webster School District joined Siren in earning an overall 4 star rating of ‘Exceeds Expectations,’ with a 70.3 report card score. The district did notably well in almost all areas and showed a strong improvement over past reports. They are also working to overcome areas of concern from last year and years past, which Webster School District administrator Jeff Fimreite noted in his comments on the district’s report card.
“I am proud of our students and staff as our district as a whole ‘exceeded state expectations’ for the first time in many years. It is not easy for students and staff to adjust to the situations and mode of teaching that they had to do last year. Also, congrats to the Webster Middle School who ‘significantly exceeds expectations’ on the state report card,” Fimreite said.
“That said, this report card data probably needs a big asterisk by it.”
Fimreite and other superintendents all had unique and untold challenges last year, as everything from attendance to sickness, remote learning, mask controversies and poor Internet service added multiple layers to existing challenges.
“Last year was difficult, to say the least with absenteeism, ranging from illness to quarantining and struggling to engage some students in remote learning,” Fimreite said. “We still have work to do, but doing well while navigating a pandemic shows that Webster's staff and students persevered in the face of challenges.”
Fimreite pointed out a few ways they are trying to continue to adjust from the pandemic lessons, and even expand into areas where some students have fallen behind.
“We are fortunate to have a supportive school board in Webster, as we already had a plan in place to work on learning loss due to the impact of COVID-19,” Fimreite said. “The plan included the adoption of a new evidence-based curriculum in ELA for our elementary and middle schools and ramping up of our interventions for struggling students, and conducting a curriculum review at the high school to name a few.”
The lessons of the pandemic continue to both haunt and help districts, and Fimreite is not alone in trying to even apply good news to be even better.
“We will continue to use this data, along with many other measurements, to drive our instruction. Our goal is to help our students achieve their fullest potential and prepare for their futures,” Fimreite added.
Outside Burnett County
Taking a comparative look at the nearby and local Wisconsin school districts, Shell Lake earned the highest overall score summary with a 74.4 and 4 stars with an ‘exceed expectations.’
Spooner’s school district was right behind with a 74.1 score and similar 4 stars and ‘exceeds expectations.’
While technically a much larger district, Amery scored a 73.1 and also earned the 4 stars.
Another large local district, Unity, fared well with a 69.8 score, earning 3 stars and a ‘meets expectations’ rating.
The Luck School District scored a 67.4 score and 3 stars, as well, ‘meeting expectations.’
Frederic came in with the lowest overall regional scores with a 58.8, but also earned 3 stars and a ‘meets expectations’ rating.